By Catrina Satterwhite 

During the pandemic, connecting with people was quite the task whether it was family, friends, or colleagues. This also affected students. Many K-12 students had to learn to adjust to virtual lessons at home which left some students feeling out of the loop with their teachers. Of course, things are much better now but a great tool was created from that time and experience. 

Gradient Learning, founded and led by educators, is a non-profit organization that brings communities, schools, and families together in pursuit of meeting the needs of every student. Gradient Learning was recently selected for a “Special Mention” on the Best Inventions of 2022 list by TIME magazine for their tool called Along

I had the opportunity to chat with Along’s Program Director Samia Zaidi and Communications Manager Jill Kipnis about this amazing tool. 

“I was actually working at Gradient on the Summit Learning Program in the Spring of 2020. Across our partnership with Gradient and at CZI just across the partnership of the work that we had been doing, we were noticing as kids went out to remote learning and we were talking closely with teachers, with administrators, and hearing that there was a lot of disconnection. Students were going home and didn’t feel connected to their school communities.There wasn’t as much opportunity to feel that connection that they would have had with a teacher in school. We started thinking, what are some ways that we might take what we know about the importance of connections and put those into practice to meet the moment of folks having to be in a different setting and things suddenly changing. That’s really where Along came from. We talked to administrators, we talked to teachers, and we talked to folks that said we are looking for more opportunities to build these types of connections. We sat in a lot of different interviews and started putting things together just like greyscale and getting some folks to test out ideas with us and think about what the options were. From there we did some piloting with some initial folks to see if this may be what teachers and students are going to want. We’ve been reiterating from there ever since,” says Zaidi. 

If you’re curious about piloting, Zaidi explains that they worked with an initial number of district school partners and educators. They talked with a number of them early on which included an advisory panel with folks just giving input, and user research, and then they found an initial group of people interested in trying out Along

Today Along has made this available to any educator in the United States, K-12 at no cost if they would like to use it. 

So how does Along work? 

“I was myself an educator at the beginning of my career in the classroom and one of the things that I think we know to be true is the demand on educator time and how do I find the time in my

day to not only meet the needs of my students academically but meet the needs of all of the other things that are going on,“ said Zaidi. 

Zaidi explains that Along can integrate into a once-a-week schedule for an educator. It’s a platform where it starts building a connection between an educator and a student through a simple question, something as simple as telling them about your name or something you really value and why. The questions are seemingly simple as the examples of questions above have a lot of depth behind them. The questions were vetted through a very rigorous process through content partners. 

An educator can record themselves sharing an answer to one of the simple questions. The educator can then send that out to a group of their students. The students can then respond with their own answers to that same question in their own time. Either audio, video, or text format at their convenience. The educator can then validate the answers that the students sent back. This process can be 10 minutes or up to an hour just depending on how time permits. This entire process helps to bridge gaps, allowing both student and teacher to learn more about the other each week. 

Zaidi explains that some students really like the idea, while some are apprehensive. However, after a few times of using the tool, they adapt to it. 

In the future, Zaidi hopes that more educators and schools will have access to Along and the benefits that it offers with a why and a how and that they are getting strong resources. 

Educators can sign up at Along’s website at no cost to get started right away.